Media Bistro recently ran an insightful article on a BrandFog and eMarketer survey showing that tweeting CEOs are highly prized by their followings. The findings that 77% of all respondents would be more likely to proceed to checkout with companies where C-levels are tweeting is a revelation in social media marketing, as there are precious other factors that could possibly reach that astronomical level of adherence. The study showed that 78% of followers believe that the top dog participation leads to better social media communication with the entire brand; 71% said that it improves the brand’s image; and 64% think that it leads to greater and more beneficial transparency.

The Vast Majority of Consumers Demand CEO Social Media Access

An overwhelming 84% of respondents rated engagement through social media at the CEO scale as important or even mission critical and a similar 82% were more likely to trust a company that has a CEO that leverages the medium. When it comes to enhancing the brand’s image, participation in social networking was seen to be a positive by a full 94% of all respondents. It would seem to follow that the business-based LinkedIn would be the primary social media channel for executive communication but it actually is in third place in the representation stakes at 71%, behind Twitter at 79.3%, and Facebook at 81%. Google+ scored a relatively pathetic 17.1%.

Less than a Dozen Fortune 500 CEOs Are on Twitter

The universal integration of social media into the daily lives of billions of people is a trend that has altered the most basal expectations of the consumer about what it means to engage with a brand. While in days gone by the primary marketing model was to provide a persuasive broadcast message to unilaterally drive sales, today’s active online customer demands direct access to their preferred brands and its executives. This unquestioned preference is especially critical in view of the unfortunate reality that fewer than a dozen CEOs from all of the Fortune 500 corporations are active on Twitter!

The Next Generation of Execs Must Be Comfortable with Informal Social Chats

The study notes that the adoption of social media in the C-suite has been a slow and sluggish slog, and forecasts that the next generation of executives will need to embrace an innovative set of talents and skills in order to promote their companies successfully in a social networking world. Many CEOs currently shun the very characteristics that are most highly regarded by social networkers in order to build brand trust and loyalty, such as integrity, transparency, collaboration and consistent stakeholder communications. The CEO of the future will need to be comfortable with the process of “informal chats” with his company’s social followers, as it is that very openness that will enable higher levels of customer advocacy as well as employee engagement and overall business sustainability.

Should All C-suite Social Media Posts Be Pre-Cleared by the PR Department?

There are clear risks for the C-suite in espousing such intimate levels of social media communications. Too many widely-publicized gaffes by top executives have demolished years of building online brand reputations in a single misconceived 140 character tweet. Is the executive tweet of the future going to be sent to the Public Relations department first for vetting and then broadcast out to the world once sanitized and approved? That would certainly be the safe way of proceeding but it is a model that is not overly widespread at this time. Just like we can all shake our heads at multi-millionaire celebrities who get picked up for drunk driving since they can certainly afford a chauffeur, we can similarly be dismayed at the exec who impetuously fires off a tweet insulting a competitor or issues a racial, sexual or other ill-advised comment.

It seems a discomforting oxymoron to think that the best way for the C-suite to achieve transparency in brand social media communications is to pass it through the company’s PR section before release, but it may be a pattern that is adopted by more executives in the future to safeguard their own and their brand’s online reputations.